Category Archives: the sandbox writing challenge



I’m fascinated by the small details of nature:

The way the fronds of a feather lock into place – a technique that we crudely imitate in the production of zips.

The fragile beauty of a leaf skeleton after the body has fallen away.
It’s like the complex criss-cross of lines on my youngest daughter’s hand. A palmist would have field day with Laura’s reading.

The freshly fallen fruit of the horse-chestnut tree – the spiky outer layer, the whorled pattern on the conker as it vacates its soft, fleshy womb.

Tiny green shoots emerging from the ground, illustrating the complexity of life and the miracle of survival.

When it snows, I hold my hand out and watch the soft flakes melt, although it leaves me with a fleeting feeling of sadness, like when icicles drip away to nothing.

I watch bees collecting pollen, butterflies enjoying a midsummer dance, ants pushing clods of food toward their nest, flowers breaking out of their buds, the varying species of seaweed on the seashore, seashells, and even the smallest chunks of worn-away glass and driftwood.

I am riveted by giant forces of nature, too:

The shapes and colours in the sky, at sunrise, sunset, noon and night. Each season and every mood of weather brings its own interest.

Storms excite and revitalise me. I like to be outside, with the rain pelting down, and the lightening throwing brief, dramatic images across the landscape.

Wild seas draw my attention; the sight of waves as they break, splash and crash, the music in the sound the ocean makes.

But trees are the most fascinating of all; those gentle plants with their beauty and variety, the abundance of flora and fauna they harmoniously support and live alongside, while they help to hold the planet together, clean the air and make it safe for us to breathe.

Finally, I used to get a kick out of casually observing the clumsy art of adolescent flirtation, amused by how subtle they considered themselves. For example:

A small group of girls encounters a small clutch of boys. Without warning, the girls crank their voices up a couple of notches. The boys ignore them, so the girls get louder. They say things like.

“Oh no! It’s them. I hope they haven’t seen us.”

“I don’t think so. We’d better get out of here before they do.”

If that doesn’t work, they switch to high-pitched, giggly, theatrical chatter about make-up, or they might bitch about the latest victim of spots or bad hair. Eventually the boys notice them. There’s a flicker of interest. Time to repeat “Oh no! I hope they haven’t seen us”, et al, and flounce off, weaving around a bit so that it’s easier for the boys to catch them up. Half-an-hour later, they all reappear as a single group. The girls are insulting the boys. The boys are lapping it up, although  their carefully practised lazy gait is distracting them somewhat. The girls are flapping their arms about, energetically twisting and turning. 

Job done!

It’s all changed. The progressively smutty lure of time has stolen their innocence. I prefer to close my ears to the obscenity. I’ve heard eleven year old girls claiming to have been party to sexual experiments that I have never dabbled in, and wouldn’t wish to.

Trees are sticklers for tradition. Unlike young teens, they are always discreet.

Written for Calen’s Sandbox Challenge, Exercise 10.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Mirror, Mirror…

This Week, Calen again invites us to revisit her sandbox. She asks:

“You find yourself in a quiet room looking at your reflection in this beautiful old mirror. What do you see? Is there anything in particular you like about yourself? Is there anything you don’t like? Tell us about it.”

Here is my response:

I’m not bad for my age, though my skin’s become saggy,
the creases have deepened, my eyes got more baggy,
while my skin is quite clear and and my hair is okay –
it’s pleasing to see that there’s not too much grey.

But just two little details are getting me down;
when my face is relaxed, I’m wearing a frown
and I’ve suddenly noticed that each time I smile,
my reflection glares back with a vague hint of bile.

As I gaze at my image I realise
either me or the mirror is telling lies.


Written for Calen’s Sandbox Challenge – Exercise 1, which offers you a fun way to get to know yourself .

©Jane Paterson Basil

A snail on shale



I emerged from the womb,
a solid product of genetic soup;
ladled out by lost generations of those
who dripped their natures onto my naked back
in hues which slipped and ran together,
digging deep beneath my skin;
a secret, unseen history.

My subcutanous tattoo;
my aid, my bane, my unique soup;
remains, unaffected by all influences,
letting me work within its broad-spaced fences.
It refuses all blame for my iniquity,
for I have had plenty of time
to get used to its limits.

How I describe myself
depends on the colour of leaves,
the buzz of a bee, the shape of the day.
The tone of spoken words, the patterns in my brain,
my mood, my pride, my sense of shame,
my courage or my cowardice,
all factor into my reply.

I say just this of me;
sometimes I make mistakes;
walking lanes where danger creeps,
or I may fail to show compassion for a heart
that strikes out in confusion or pain;
I often err in a tough decision,
or let anger hold sway;

but I grow a little each day,
not at day’s pace but like a snail,
forever trying to improve my human ways;
climbing life like it was a bank of sharpened shale.
Slipping back, crying out at each fresh gash, pausing,
then, blood-streaked, in a sweaty blur, I carry on,
determined, cheered by each brave bloom
that blossoms on these rocky hills.
Slowly I climb higher, confident
I will conquer the peak.


Written for the Sandbox Writing Challenge #60

This week, Calen asks us to describe ourselves in five words or sentences. I chose to cheat, and instead wrote a five-stanza poem.

Now I’ve decided to make up for this and describe myself first in five sentences:

I’m an honest, compassionate, ethical person who strives to improve myself and my environment, but I find myself unable to carry out the majority of my good intentions, because I have difficulty tearing myself away from my writing.

I have an obsessive personality which is usually focused on something creative, and throughout my lifetime I’ve always been submerged in one activity over all others, to the extent that I resent taking time out from that activity to cook meals, spend time with friends, sleep, or do any other ordinary day to day things; however, I have always written, and writing has now taken over my life.

If you read the story of my life, you’d perhaps consider it sad, dotted as it is with abuse and tragedy, but I’ve had many happy times, and still do, despite unsolved family difficulties, because I’ve learnt to extract both joy and laughter almost from thin air, and I have good, caring family and friends.

My family are grown up and I now choose to live on my own, as living with a man never made me happy, and, apart from the love of my life, who I haven’t set eyes on in years, I believe there is only one other man I could love, but he’s at least twelve years my junior, and too busy offering an essential service, free of charge, to our drug-stricken area, to have any interest in the most scintilating woman in the world, let alone li’l ole me.

I’m shy, and lack confidence and self-esteem, possibly because, when I was a child, my peers – understandably – mostly avoided me, finding me weird, but there is a gregarious, funny side to my personality which comes out when I’m in the company of those I love and trust.

To make up for the protracted length of the sentences, I now describe myself in five words:






and to further make up for it, in five letters:




©Jane Paterson Basil

The old game


I traipse up the path
trailing an ethereal scent of a wisp of a ghost of a dream
of fake, decaying romance,
with not the least intention
of filfilling any pumped up expectation.

Al sees me first.
He’s been pacing, peeking impatiently around the corner,
waiting for me to walk this way.

My guilt mingles with conceit as relief skims his face,
and he greets me with a cheeky grin.

I try not to wince at Bert’s yawning gurn
incompetently designed to charm.

I knew he – they – would be here
and a part of me wants
to walk away,
break this jagged triangle
that they painted on the bench.

While Bert doesn’t understand the maths –
doesn’t know that none of our three points can truly meet –
even he sees that our shape is not equalateral,
his angle being an acute 20, holding him at a distance,
while Al and me have 80 each,
bringing us so close I could almost reach his soul
if I so wished.

Poor Bert, grappling for attention,
with questions like hiccups that make no sense;
silently expelling a deathly stench, looking confused
telling us it wasn’t him who broke wind;
his chin unwittingly dressed with dribbles of dinner
as he wonders where he went wrong.

Like a young child imitating the big boys in school
he bunglingly apes Al’s innocently clever play,
competitively grabbing for my attention,
like a fictional insect that swells with every sting
as with each ill-placed step he hopes he has gained an inch,
too green to see the futility of his wishes.

Bile rises, battling with my natural compassion

Al holds the stage
not seeing the magnitude of those differences
between him and me:

my craving to reinstate a discarded collection
of grubby dug-up jug and cup handles, because I believe
that in some way they define me
versus Al’s gold chains, his polished nick-knacks,
the list of generous gifts he has given
each with a fondly remembered and costly gift tag;

my hippy-dippy deep-thinks
versus his doubtful, hilarious tales of high jinks and nights spent in the cells

my high-faluting ethics
versus his low-flung antics.

In a moment of intimacy, Al’s arm slips around my waist
I let it rest as he whispers
I often think of you Jane.

I occasionally long for a warm touch
and no matter what I pretend,
he is attractive to a daft woman fast approaching her dotage.

I recall a scene in
an obscure Peter Sellars film about an aging Lothario
where Sellars, snuggled up against a freshly aquired housemaid
It’s alright you know – it’s not real, but it makes life less lonely.

I’ve never been at ease with
having words murmered in my ear
by amorous men wishing to exceed my desires
so I panic and get it wrong;
I’m not real, I say,

but what I mean is
like in the movie it’s just a game
which I wish I could play to
the following rules:

We live
respectably apart
in a Jane Austen novel.

I am the heroine,
dressed in white muslim sprigged with roses;
hair scraped back, modest eyes downcast, prettily framed by
a couple of artfully contrived ringlets,
bearing my genteel poverty with quiet dignity;
while he’s the rich lord with a mansion in the country,
who chose respectability over his love for me;
thereby trapping himself in
loveless marriage.
An error he will forever regret.

Most days he can be seen
riding wildly across the moor;
hoping to escape the memory
but ever failing,
while in my humble parlour
I weep demure, dry nosed tears
into an embroidered hankerchief
which never gets wet.

we will meet in cool drawing rooms
dotted with polite society,
our language limited to secret
yearning glances

should we will find ourselves alone
we shall speak carefully veiled sentences with double meanings
until control goes and words of passion burst from his lungs,
roughening his stammering voice
and making me swoon.

maybe once or twice he may
grip my shoulders as if he cannot let me go
and I will chastely slap his face
and run away, torn by the tragic waste
of his life and mine.

None of this is worth suggesting, as I know Al’s game
would go several levels beyond
my present reach of skill or desire
until it achieved close involvement with
slippery naked bits and tangled sheets,
so I’m going to stick with my logic puzzles
rather than have my PJs invaded.

and anyway
if we were the lovers, whether thwarted or sated
who would John be?

I get up from the bench and say goodnight.
With nothing left to do, Al and Bert leave too.

maybe tomorrow
I’ll move beyond this adolescent craving
to paddle in those green eyes.

so what if I noticed their piercing shade?
that doesn’t mean a thing.

Posted for The Sandbox Writing Challenge: Games

©Jane Paterson Basil


The virus that saved the world


When the virus first hit, nobody knew what was going on. The characters of certain hard-nosed bankers and ultra-right wing politicians changed overnight. One of the early “victims” was Nigel Farage, who opened his house to a family of vulnerably-housed immigrants, suggesting they invite their friends to stay.

Office workers and shop assistants who’d previously turned their morning faces away from the homeless men and women sleeping in doorways, dashed to the cafes to buy them breakfast in a bun, thrust Lattes in cardboard cups into their dirt caked hands, and pulled little packages of sugar of of their pockets, asking “Do you…?”

The country was thown into chaos – those who had not yet been infected struggled to maintain the status quo, while their families, friends, neighbours and colleagues, were carrying out uncharacteristically good works. If they were rich, they ran around giving their shares to the poor, and their money to good causes. If they were poor they invited those even more unfortunate than themselves around for dinner and hugged strangers in the street.

As you can imagine, the economy collapsed, but it didn’t matter, because the movers and shakers who were infected – and there were more of them every day – lost interest in amassing yet more truckloads of money, insread turning their attention to taking care of the populance. The richest and the most intelligent got together to finally make the country work. All our services improved dramatically, and the nation became happy again – happy as they had never been before. Crime ceased to exist, hatred became extinct, and anger became a rare emotion which was easily dispelled.

Everybody in the country had caught the pandemic, and it’s currently spreading around the world. Donald Trump kicked up a fuss, screaming that an antidote needed to be found quickly. Naturally, as soon as he contracted it, he changed his tone. Now that there’s no need for a President he keeps himself busy carrying out charitable works in developing countries. It’s rumoured that he’s currently working with orphans somewhere in Africa, but nobody seems to know for sure. These days he’s a modest man who likes to keep a low profile.

Who would have thought that compassion was a virus? And who would have thought that a virus could save the planet?

Written for The Sandbox Writing Challenge #49. This week Calen says “Imagine yourself floating among these clouds in harmony with everyone and everything. What can you do to make that happen?” My answer is that I can try to create a compassion virus which is so virulant it’ll infect everyone on the planet.

I’ll need  a chemistry set…

©Jane Paterson Basil

I don’t understand us

deforestation-405749_960_720.jpgwe can build a brain

and yet we cannot embrace

our weeping planet


submachine-gun-new60_720we can reach the moon

yet we cannot turn ourselves

away from hatred



caught up in the flow

we race toward our demise.

stop. stand still. listen.


planet-9.jpgearth sings without need

of our accompaniment.

we are out of tune


world-342-228.jpgwe know the answers

but we pretend that we don’t.

surely we can change.


Written for Calen’s Sandbox Writing Challenge #47  “What don’t you understand?” I don’t understand what is the matter with the human race. It’s taken us millions of years to advance to the stage where we can build a vehicle which is able to travel through space and reach the moon, and make a machine which, in a fraction of a  second will answer a mathematical question that would take an average human brain years to work out, and yet we still aren’t able to keep our planet or ourselves healthy.

©Jane Paterson Basil

Pool of dirt


Hey Mr Gangsta – so you think you’re cool?
Dissin’ every lesson that you learnt in school
Mistakin’ your gun for a useful tool
Killin’ all your brothers like a misbegotten fool

you’re a poisonous grub in a pool of dirt
looking for a host, with no thought of the hurt
you’re one of many and you all breed like fleas
we need to find a cure for this virulent disease
doctor, good doctor please give us some ease
jab us with an anti-gangsta vaccination please

Hey there Mr Racist well waddaya know
Not very much, and it’s starting to show
You’re dissatisfied and your mind’s so slow
You blame our immigrants and whine for them to go

you’re a poisonous grub in a pool of dirt
looking for a host, with no thought of the hurt
you’re one of many and you all breed like fleas
we need to find a cure for this virulent disease
doctor, good doctor please give us some ease
jab us with an anti-racist vaccination please

As for the monster who would stomp on his friends
With his size ten boots, for his own greedy ends
Making more money with each law that he bends
It’s time for him to turn around and make amends

you’re just a poisonous grub in a pool of dirt
looking for a host, with no thought of the hurt
you’re one of many and you all breed like fleas
we need to find a cure for this virulent disease
doctor, good doctor please give us some ease
jab us with an anti-greedy vaccination please

Poor Mr Foolish runs along behind
Longing for escape from his thankless grind
His vision too tunnelled to consider mankind
He votes to drag his future into decline

you’re just a poisonous grub in a pool of dirt
looking for a host, with no thought of the hurt
you’re one of many and you all breed like fleas
we need to find a cure for this virulent disease
doctor, good doctor please give us some ease
jab us with an anti-foolish vaccination please

Written for The Sandbox Writing Challenge #46 A Question of Perspective. This week Calen asks us “Whom do you look down upon?”

Thank you Calen – I wasn’t sure I wanted to do this challenge, but it turned out to be quite… exhilarating. Yup – that’s the word  🙂

©Jane Paterson Basil